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Promise Song

Linda Holeman


Ages 12 and up

Tundra Books, 1997, 978-0-88776-387-8

  When she is offered the opportunity to go to Canada where she will get “a proper home and family” Rosetta is quick to accept for herself and for her little sister Flora. After all who wouldn’t exchange the Manchester Refuge, an orphanage, for the chance to have a real family. Rosetta dreams of what it will be like in Canada and how she and Flora will live in a real house with a garden. She dreams that their new parents will be kind to them and she hopes that she will be able to go to school so that she can become a teacher one day.

  When they arrive in Canada Rosetta, Flora and the other girls from England are taken to the Marchmont Home where they are to stay for a few days until their new families can come and get them. One day Rosetta and the other bigger girls are outdoors and the little girls are inside the Home when Rosetta suddenly realizes that Flora has been gone for quite a while. Rosetta goes to look for Flora and discovers that her little sister is gone. She has been adopted. Rosetta can hardly believe that the people there would do such a thing. How could they separate the sisters? How could they take Flora away without even letting the sisters say goodbye? Rosetta tries to get Flora’s new parents to take her with them too but they do not want Rosetta and they drive away.

  Not long after Flora’s departure Rosetta is sent to her new home. Alas for Rosetta it is not really a proper home at all for she is not going to be adopted by a loving family. Instead she is to be an indentured servant working on the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. Though her master and mistress are not cruel to her, they are not particularly kind either. As the weeks go by however, Rosetta and Mrs. Thomas - whose name is Runa - become friends. Rosetta learns how lonely Runa is and how much she misses her sister. Runa has lost all the babies she has had and now she is pregnant again. Rosetta knows that this time, if Runa does not manage to keep her baby alive, it will break Runa’s heart.

  As she works on the farm and goes to school Rosetta thinks of Flora and lives for the day when she will be able to be with her once more. First she has to have the money to send a letter to the Marchmont Home to find out where Flora is, and then she has to go to get her. It is hard though because Runa also needs her, poor worn down Runa with her swollen belly and her bullying husband. Rosetta cannot leave her yet and at the same time she so much wants to find her little Flora.

  In this often deeply moving story the author tells the fictional tale of just two of the eighty thousand children who came to Canada from England to find new lives. Many of the children were orphans but some came from families that were just too poor to provide for them. Their parents had placed their children in Homes (orphanages) in England because they could not care for them anymore. These British Home children were brought to Canada and were either adopted or became servants or farm hands.

  In this beautifully written story we not only find out what it was like to be a British Home child but we also get to meet other immigrants. There is Runa, the young woman from Iceland, and the Fergussons who came from Scotland. We see how they brought their traditions, their language, and their culture with them, and we see how they all come together in this new country, helping one another in hard times, and celebrating together in the good times. Best of all we see how the women and girls find a common ground to form a sisterhood which is strong and binding no matter what happens.

Promise Song


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